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Fuji X100 — Great Sensor, and Thoughts on the Panasonic GF3 and Olympus E-P3

Fuji X100 12MP camera

Just yesterday after a long wait, I finally received my Fuji X100, which I had previously reviewed in DAP. It has been out of stock for quite some time.

I was impressed with the X100 when I first reviewed it, and I remain impressed. While oddly flawed in some usability areas, the X100 is surely the best compact camera yet produced (as opposed to a Nintendo-like toy).

I exclude the Leica M9, as it is not a compact camera (not pocketable), and the M9 is far less advanced in usability areas, even if it has higher resolution and interchangeable lenses.

As I show in my review of the Fuji X100, one can grossly underexpose, the color is superb and ISO 1600 is impressively good. Images from it are very natural and very appealing. What I know is that I can take the X100 out and push the images hard, and it delivers a quality image every time.

The purpose of this piece is to serve my readers with my personal thoughts on three current compact cameras. I don’t care for brand here, only what I feel is going to provide the best value and get the job done. And so I share, but I’m not looking for a debate.

Panasonic GF3

The Panasonic GF3 has an aging sensor with mediocre color, and at its base ISO the images already are having trouble with noise. I care not a whit for the lab tests, what I see is that it is not a camera I can shoot at dusk, and that pushing its images by 3 stops is an exercise in futility. Not so with the X100.

I recently ordered the new Panasonic GF3 with 14-42 zoom, which is a so-so lens. The GF3 is a fun little camera to shoot on auto, but with plastic parts and a clunky user interface for real photography, decent but uninspiring image quality and an annoying twiddly-fiddly touch screen and no decent buttons or dials.

At $899, the Panasonic GF3 is close enough in price to the X100 to make it not a good value for what it actually delivers (at $499 it would be priced right).

Olympus E-P3

The Olympus E-P3 is a lovely little camera, very fun to shoot and with some really outstanding design features, but for my uses a camera lives and dies by its sensor: I have 3 or 4 point and shoots in my drawer gathering dust— image quality just cannot be used in many situations that I’d want to.

The E-P3 sensor has similar decent but uninspiring image quality as the Panasonic GF3. It is just not good enough for what I want to do, though both the GF3 and the E-P3 would serve perfectly well for many projects, and the feature set of the E-P3 in particular might make it the winner for some uses (e.g., fast focus).

Why be so critical?

Well, $900 is not chump change, and the Panasonic GF3 and Olympus E-P3 are in that range with the zoom lens, somewhat less with a fixed lens. For that kind of money, I want DSLR image quality so that the camera can actually be a pro-grade tool, and need not be replaced next year for being almost good enough. It’s about value over several years.

Why do I care so much in this case? Because on my bike I have a project to shoot that will result in 4' X 5' posters (to be viewed at a reasonable distance). Color, dynamic range, per-pixel quality are all there with the Fuji X100, so the 12MP resolution is adequate, though I’d sure like 18MP should Fuji deliver an X200.

It is not in the cards to lug around a DSLR or even the Leica M9 while cycling— I need a small camera that fits into a jersey pocket and weighs no more than a pound. Also, its form factor must slip into and out of a pocket easily.

The Fuji X100 is that camera, even if its resolution is a little lower than I’d like, because the per-pixel image quality, ability to shoot at dusk at high ISO, great color, etc is all there; it’s images show none of the brittle image quality of many cameras (I shoot RAW). It’s a tool that will get the job done. The Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic GF3 fall several tenths short for me, even if they are very good cameras for many uses.

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